Category Archives: Books

I Think I’m Going To Write a Book

Today was a real break through. I was talking to two senior developers here at Gestalt this morning about how to test some code one of the teams in the Joplin, MO office is working on. I came up with this awesome idea that I threw out there to these two devs. I said, “We need to be able to automagically take some test data, pump it through our module, let it do its voodoo, and then compare the results with what we think we should see in the end. Oh yeah, and this should be able to run constantly, whenever someone makes changes to the code base, this kind of test should run.” They were speechless. I think it was because of my brilliance. I know, that’s not being very humble, but this is a HUGE break through I made today. I can’t blame the guys if they were in awe of a Scrum Master’s ability to revolutionize the world of software development in less than a minute of thought. I wonder if this is how Alexander Graham Bell’s colleagues felt when he invented the telephone?

WTTBYC BookThis new way of testing software certainly demands a book. Imagine, being able to write tests in code that are run continuously as the code evolves. The confidence you’d have in the quality of your code would go way up. Ideally, you would write these types of tests before you write the code. BAM! Another magic moment just happened as I typed that last sentence. Write the tests before you code. WTTBYC is pretty catchy, no? I think I have the title for my first book right there: Write the tests before you code (WTTBYC). Imagine how writing tests first might help improve the design of your code. If you need to think about how you’re going to test the code it might force you to write things a bit cleaner.

I think the only thing I need to work on now is fighting off all the tech book publishers with a stick. I may need to get an agent. What a game changing day it has been!

Made to Stick: Unexpectedness

Following up on my initial post on the book, Made to Stick, I wanted to touch on the second of the six major factors that contribute to making an idea sticky – unexpectedness.Surprised Baby Before I do that, I’ll list all six factors here:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

Unexpectedness is sometimes equated with shock value. I would argue that urban legends like the one Made to Stick starts off with provide a certain amount of shock value that makes the unexpected all the more memorable, but shock value is not necessary to achieve unexpectedness. If shock value was a requirement for sticky ideas, then most of us would be out of luck.

A great example of unexpectedness in the book comes from Nordstrom. Like many companies, one of Nordstrom’s core values is great customer service. Snooze, right? But, then follow up that core value with anecdotes like this:

  • A refund is given to a customer returning tires even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires
  • Items purchased at another store are gift wrapped by a Norstrom’s sales person
  • A Norstrom’s salesperson warms up a car for a customer on a cold winter day

Imagine going through Nordstrom’s orientation as “just another salesperson”, hear the spiel on “customer service is #1” and then be surprised by the examples above. The idea of “great customer service” just took on a fresh new meaning due to the unexpectedness of the examples.

After reading the book I thought about former North Carolina men’s basketball coach Dean Smith and his simple motto of “play hard, together, and smart.” Wow, thanks coach. Next you’re going to tell us to give it 110% and remind us there is no “i” in team. But wait, Dean Smith backed up his simple message with unexpected behavior. Most assume that a coach is going to be happy with a win and upset with a loss. Not so with Dean Smith. He didn’t like losing, but if his team played hard, together, and smart, but came away with a loss, he praised them. If the team didn’t play hard, together, and smart, coach Smith would not be pleased with his team’s performance.

Both the examples of Nordstrom and Dean Smith show that unexpectedness is not necessarily driven by extraordinary events or stories, which I find quite encouraging.  Now I just need to master the concept in real life!

This entry was published on August 28, 2007 under the following topics Books

Made to Stick: A Must Read

Have you ever had to sell people on an idea? Ever needed to get people to focus on a common goal? I know I do, even though the ideas and goals normally aren’t earth shattering. Made to Stick, as the cover says, explains “why some ideas survive and others die.”

The authors, Chip and Dan Heath, give six major factors that typically determine whether an idea will survive or not. The first, and most important factor, is keeping things simple. Duh. That was my first thought as I started reading the chapter. Then the examples started coming. Southwest’s core value of being “THE low fare airline.” It almost sounds too simple. Then an example of how this simple, yet core idea at Southwest translates to the day-to-day:

“Tracy from marketing comes into your office. She says her surveys indicate that the passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts and she thinks a nice chicken Caesar salad would be popular. What do you say? . . .

You say, ‘Tracy, will adding that chicken caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we’re not serving any damn chicken salad.'”

The key with keeping ideas simple isn’t to dumb them down, rather it’s all about capturing the core idea. An example is when Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992. The former President’s campaign ran on the now famous mantra of “It’s the economy, stupid.” While Clinton was constantly tempted to get into endless policy debates, James Carville reminded him that winning the election hinged on sticking to the core idea of “It’s the economy, stupid.” Regardless of your politics, Clinton’s ’92 campaign was genius and to think it all revolved around four little words.

I believe that much frustration comes from people not being able to communicate their ideas in a way that people remember and latch onto. I know that I’m far too often left scratching my head wondering why a person or group of people didn’t buy into what I was telling them. Now I think I have a better understanding and intend to put to practice the principles taught in Made to Stick.

I’ll write about the other five factors that make ideas sticky in future posts. There’s too much good stuff to capture in one post.

P.S. Not only is Made to Stick a great book, but it comes with a great cover. Everyone who sees it immediately goes to touch the duct tape part of the cover. Very clever.

This entry was published on August 22, 2007 under the following topics Books